And so we have progressed from one of the biggest prison break-out films of the Golden Age of Hollywood to one of the biggest from the early nineties: the Shawshank Redemption. This film is generally regarded as one of the best and most emotionally powerful films that have ever been made, so I knew that it had to be on my list.
The Shawshank Redemption follows the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins,) a young banker who in 1947 is given a life sentence at Shawshank upon being wrongfully committed of the murder of his wife and lover. Upon his arrival at the prison, he quickly befriends Ellis ‘Red’ Redding, (Morgan Freeman) a man who knows how to get things, and the rest of ‘Red’s’ group. Dufresne quickly uses his banking knowledge to improve life for him and his friends, whilst also gaining favour with the abusive guards by doing their tax returns and also running the crooked Warden Norton’s money laundering scenes.
The film was very emotionally powerful. It had many powerful scenes that depicted the true brutality of prison life. Two standout examples include, right at the film’s beginning, where a prisoner is beaten to death by the guards on his first night after loudly protesting that he doesn’t belong there. The second example is Brooks Hatlen, the prisoner’s librarian who after being released from prison after 50 years on the inside, cannot adapt to life on the outside and kills himself. This segment was particularly poignant, as it depicted a startling truth of prison life. I admit that before watching this film, I thought that all prisoners would want to do in prison is leave, but this film proved me wrong.
If a prisoner has been in prison for an extended period of time and it’s the only life they’ve known, then it makes perfect sense that they’re terrified of being reintegrated into the outside world. They’ve never known anything but jail bars and a hard bed. Seeing Brooks struggling to cope with the fast pace of the outside world and thinking of ways to break his parole and be returned to Shawshank was heartbreaking, because, as Brooks was an old man, I would have thought he would have liked to reassume his old life and live out the rest of his days in peace. Yet, as he hasn’t known any life outside of prison, he kills himself.
There are too many instances of prison brutality to mention, but a couple include the abusive Captain Byron Hedley and the prison rapist Bogs, both of which add well to the hard-hitting severity of the film. Morgan Freeman’s character ‘Red’ describes living on the outside, as living in fear which no man should have to do. I feel that this is a very touching and clever point to make about how men are more afraid of life outside of prison, rather than inside. Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins as the leads were also great. Morgan Freeman is always great as any film’s narrator and Tim Robbins played Dufresne well, perfectly capturing the inner conflict and turmoils of the man.
Again, I would criticise this film for having too many characters, which the audience didn’t receive enough information about. Although, the vast majority of these characters were just part of the secondary cast and therefore, it can be argued, that they didn’t require any character development, I would have still liked to find out more about them. Throughout the film, I found it difficult distinguishing between the different prisoners and remembering all of their names. I felt that at the film’s conclusion, it should have been revealed what happened to them all.
This film is highly deserving of all of the critical praise that it has garnered. It has strong acting and a strong narrative and it certainly does not pull any punches in depicting the brutalities of the American Justice System. I still love the issue that the film raises of how ex-convicts can live in bigger misery outside of prison rather than inside it.